09 April 2014

The Long Walk, Richard Bachman

This was the second King novel under the Bachman pseudonym. Although published in 1979 King has since confided that he wrote it in 1966 when just twenty, and long before his more famous early works.

Both the premise and its execution are simple: an annual 'last man standing' walking race down the East coast of America during which King explores the physical and psychological effects of a gruelling challenge to the death. Walkers who slow below 4mph or infringe other rules will be 'ticketed', a euphemism for a more terminal penalty. TV cameras relay the entertainment, and the eventual winner will choose whatever prize he wants.
Although an undoubtedly good effort from a young author, it suffers from a limited storyline resulting in endless repetition. Whether intentionally or not, the novel's biggest success lies in its foretelling of the age of reality TV and the strange relationship between contestant and viewer. Spectators lining the route of The Long Walk would today be watching Big Brother.
The reader observes interaction between the walkers, their division into groups or loners, and their ability to endure suffering of both body and mind. It's interesting, but not fascinating. When I first read this, thirty years ago, I thought it an allegory for the walk of life but it's really less pretentious than that.

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